- Toki no Mukou Maboroshi no Sora
- Hitomi no Chikara
- Eternal Blue
- Stone Cold
- Parallel Hearts
Kicking off the album is Elemental, the first of the new tracks. Opening with hand drums and a stringed instrument (apparently, an oud), Kaori and Keiko then start the vocals. Suddenly, fierce guitars bring a rocking spirit to the scene, although the strings overhead remind me that we’re still in a Yuki Kajiura song. Elemental‘s backing music is better than any of the other songs on this album. There’s an Middle Eastern feel during the verse, followed by sweeping strings in the chorus. In the break between the first chorus and second verse, ominous synths bubble while the bass lurks underneath. The bridge introduces cello to complement the other strings, which sounds fabulous. Not only that, there’s wah-wah in the guitar solo, something I haven’t heard before in a Kajiura song. Along with the brilliant instrumentals, the track is led by the entrancing Kaori, and packed with harmonies. What a way to open the album!
Contrasting with Elemental, the second track Storytelling is dragged straight from the generic basket. Sitting firmly in the pop-rock genre, little is done to distinguish it from other songs of the same style. I can draw parallels between Storytelling and Kalafina’s Misterioso, which is a bad sign. Both are guitar-based pop (although Storytelling misses the strings and other instruments of Misterioso), without memorable instrumental lines. In addition, Storytelling‘s drumming is annoying in the same way, because the snare is underused. Another similarity is that they both have no bloody structure. Does this song even have a chorus? If it does, then the chorus is bereft of anything resembling a hook line. Well, that’s the bad out of the way. The last comparison is vocals – the singers redeem both songs. Kaori is the lead vocalist here, instead of the Kalafina ladies, but the effect is the same. Her angelic voice allows me forget about the poor composition and enjoy the song… somewhat.
The next track is a ballad led by Kaori (again). Hitorigoto begins simple and quiet, but builds up through the track as more instruments are added. It starts with vocals and a peaceful organ. Other instruments come in as the song progresses – gentle vocal harmonies, subtle guitar lines and the unobtrusive patter of drums. However, the most surprising part is the saxophone, which steals the stage during the bridge with its flair. While the sax solo is great, with animated playing and a melancholic edge, a short phrase bothers me. At the ascending line at 2:56, the notes don’t sit well against the chord, and it sounds off. That might be the desired effect, but I don’t like it anyway. The vocals are exquisite, as expected from Kaori. Keiko has a solo at the end, an odd move as Kaori leads the rest of the song. It works though, and overall, Hitorigoto is a lovely track.
Toki no Mukou Maboroshi no Sora is one of their more anison pieces. After a short chanting sequence, guitars enter, followed by an oh-so-Kajiuran violin flourish that quickly leads into the verse. Kaori leads here, sounding excellent. The instrumentation during the verse/pre-chorus is good, but I always have to smile at the flute. Its tooting sounds silly and out-of-place, but thankfully it’s not too noticeable. However, what I do like are the bells in the first pre-chorus. Maybe it’s a cheap trick, but I love how easily bells can make tracks feel grand. FictionJunction should use them more often. Wakana leads the chorus, and is outstanding with her control and ability to deliver strings of high notes. The guitar solo is decent, not complicated but fitting the song. And I’m always in the mood for some Keiko in the bridge. Toki no Mukou Maboroshi no Sora is a beautiful track, and one of FictionJunction’s best.
5. Hitomi no Chikara
I don’t know what Kajiura sees in Yuuka Nanri. Hitomi no Chikara is a ballad with a very basic, piano-centric arrangement. This would be perfect for any of the other FictionJunction vocalists, but Yuuka’s vocal skills aren’t up to it. She’s acceptable singing low, but flaws pop up everywhere as soon as she goes to her mid/upper range. First, her tone is high (which isn’t necessarily bad on its own), but when coupled with a nasal, piercing sound, the result is a dreadful chorus. Second, she hits the notes poorly. For example, in the last line of the second verse, she sings “omotteta” as “omotteta-aa”, with a gap that interrupts the phrasing. On the positive side, her vibrato is nice. The arrangement is mediocre. The “suki dakara” line gets repetitive, and it isn’t the most compelling piece. But I do love it when the FictionJunction backing vocalists come together with their splendid harmonies. Overall though, it’s the weakest song of the album.
While not a ballad, Storm is still a slow-moving piece. Opening with a simple arrangement, distorted guitars come in for extra power as the song progresses. While this contrasts well with the quieter section before, it doesn’t make the song any more interesting. The arrangement is fine, nothing remarkable apart from an overly drawn-out pause halfway through. In fact, I would just describe Storm overall as bland. The vocals are disappointing. Wakana leads and sounds pretty, but she also has an uncertain, fragile quality to her voice. If you compare her vocals with those of an earlier song, such as Toki no Mukou Maboroshi no Sora, you can hear that in Storm she’s less confident and doesn’t have the strength. With an ordinary arrangement and subpar vocals, Storm is an average track.
7. Eternal Blue
Eternal Blue is a catchy song, but is recycled and lacks creativity. Nonetheless, it’s still got that gorgeous Kajiuran feel to it and fantastic vocals. Like Toki no Mukou Maboroshi no Sora, the main vocal partnership is Kaori/Wakana, with Kaori in the verse and Wakana in the chorus. Keiko’s lines are more obvious this time too, and I like how some of her deeper lines have with different timing to the lead melodies. The arrangement and instrumentation are normal for FictionJunction (i.e. they sound great). I enjoy listening to this song, but it’s not up with their best.
8. Stone Cold
Next up is FictionJunction’s dance track, Stone Cold. The instrumentation follows the standard Kajiura formula, with an electronic beat, guitars, and more synths and effects than usual. Not much about the music is memorable, except for the choral harmony before the guitar solo, and the solo itself, which is a sweet little thing filled with pull-offs. It’s a pity the guitar isn’t mixed louder during the solo, as it would be better than listening to the synths in any case. The verses are repetitive, but build up well by first using only the left panned guitar, then adding the right panned one the following verse. Kaori is on vocal duty in the verse, and Wakana the chorus. Jeez, took me long enough to figure out Kajiura’s favourite combo. Both vocalists sound great, and I can’t fault their singing (sorry for sounding like a broken record, but man they’re good). Awesome track.
Nohara is a piano-based ballad, like Hitomi no Chikara, but is led by Keiko instead of Yuuka. She’s not as consistent with her dynamics and delivery as someone like Kaori, but has good vibrato and does a fine job. Only two things irritate me, and they’re both minor. First, after words such as “nokoshite”, she comes in a fraction out-of-time because she’s taking breaths. Second, she often slides up to her notes. The instruments used are normal FictionJunction ballad stuff. The track starts with piano, then drums appear later, and at two-thirds through, electric guitars and chanting build the intensity. Kaori has a short lead part in the bridge, then the song closes with Keiko’s return and a quiet section. I like this song too.
10. Parallel Hearts
Another of their faster songs, Parallel Hearts opens with Wakana singing an abridged version of the chorus. As she and her harmonising companions hold the last note, electric guitars and a crisp violin enter with an explosion of vigour. Then the verse arrives, Kaori leading and gifting us with her excellent tone and control. At the pre-chorus Wakana takes over, amazing yet again. While the main vocals are great, I also love the backing lines. Like Eternal Blue, the backing vocalists often sing with different timing, holding notes for longer or echoing the lead. This adds an extra dimension to the vocals, making them more interesting. The bridge is also terrific. Unlike some songs, the transitions from the previous part are as smooth as you can get, and all four vocalists mix their voices into a flowing river of sound. In the final verse-like section before the last chorus, we finally get to hear Keiko sing lead (yay!). Unfortunately, this section is home to the only bad part of the song, a nasal “mieru yo” from Yuriko Kaida. Parallel Hearts finishes strong though, with a couple of energetic choruses and a variation of the violin theme. I adore this song, it’s perfect.
Gaika is the second new song that’s led by Wakana. Thankfully, her voice isn’t weak as in Storm; instead her tone is back to normal. The instrumentals are pleasing. The cello sounds wonderful, and the chorusing vocals of the FictionJunction backing singers are impressive. The guitar-work is also top-notch. Through the chorus, driving riffs give a sense of urgency, and the shredding in the solo is the best I’ve heard from either FictionJunction or Kalafina. While Gaika has those good aspects, unfortunately the chorus lacks impact and the song is repetitive, making it a frustrating listen.
Yakusoku is another pop-rock track, but unlike Storytelling, it’s got structure. We get to hear lead guitar lines during the instrumental breaks, a rarity from FictionJunction. The occasional chanting adds interest and the extra piano is nice, although the guitar solo is messy because of all the bends. So the arrangement and melody are decent, if not fantastic. Only the vocals could ruin the song now. They do. Yakusoku is performed by Yuuka, whose tone is just as high, nasal and piercing as in Hitomi no Chikara. That basically overrides everything else, and I can’t get into this song at all.
For some reason, I always forget how this song goes, which is a shame because it’s damn good. A slower piece, it’s distinguished from the other singles tracks by being in 3/4 time. Distance also has more of a Kalafina sound, with a larger strings presence than other tracks from this album. The package is completed with piano, electric guitars, drums and multiple vocalists. The lead vocal lines are sung by the extremely underused combination of Kaori/Wakana, but Keiko has a lead verse part too (albeit a short one). Nice way to finish the album.
Huh? No Gatherway? That song’s better than all but the top three! FictionJunction’s album was simultaneously satisfying and disappointing. The singles tracks were able to hold up the album, but apart from the title track, the new songs failed to impress. The songs were well-executed though. The vocals were divine (except Yuuka’s), and the musicians gave a solid performance. Overall, it was a positive experience, and I hope to hear more great FictionJunction in the future.
While I’m on the topic of FictionJunction, I can’t help but compare them to Kalafina. Apart from Kalafina having less sloppy tracks i.e. Storytelling and Storm, Kalafina have more vocal diversity. Although FictionJunction’s singers are great, they’re all clean-sounding, while Kalafina’s got Hikaru’s rougher voice, allowing them to branch out to rock and darker genres. FictionJunction misses this variety, and so is restricted in style. Kalafina’s diversity in singers and greater range of music is why I prefer Kalafina to FictionJunction.
- Parallel Hearts
- Toki no Mukou Maboroshi no Sora
Rating: 4 stars